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Now more than ever, Nats need LaRoche

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Now more than ever, Nats need LaRoche

PITTSBURGH -- It got lost in the shuffle amid Henry Rodriguez's sliders in the dirt and Rod Barajas' walk-off homer into the bleachers, but the most significant development of last night's loss to the Pirates from the Nationals' perspective might well have been Adam LaRoche's performance.

Back in the lineup after missing four games with a sore right oblique muscle, LaRoche looked like he never skipped a beat. He went 2-for-3 with a single, a walk and a towering, two-run homer in the top of the ninth off Joel Hanrahan that would have served as the game-winner if not for Rodriguez's blown save in the bottom of the inning.

LaRoche was understandably down in the dumps because of the way the game ended, but he was encouraged by his individual performance and the fact he was able to pick up right where he left off before getting hurt.

"It felt nice that I could get up there and take full swings with my side the way it's been feeling," he said.

LaRoche did have his right side packed in ice post-game, and he did have to take some swings off a tee in-game to keep himself loose, but the oblique muscle certainly didn't prevent him from doing anything on the field.

And that's a good thing for the Nationals, because right now they desperately need the veteran first baseman to keep himself in the lineup. With Jayson Werth out for the next three months with a broken wrist, with Michael Morse still sidelined at least another month with his lat strain and with Danny Espinosa struggling mightily at the plate, LaRoche has been one of the few constants in manager Davey Johnson's lineup.

LaRoche's .323 batting average ranks 10th in the NL. His .406 on-base percentage ranks eighth. His .954 OPS ranks ninth. And, of course, his play at first base has been superb.

With Bryce Harper asserting himself and Ryan Zimmerman now healthy again after a two-week stint on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, LaRoche gives the Nationals a formidable trio of big boppers. Which they certainly need, given the other holes in their lineup.

Espinosa continues to look lost at the plate; after striking out three times last night, he now has 37 for the season (second in the majors only to Adam Dunn).

"I'm concerned about him," Johnson said after the game. "But I have a lot of confidence in him. He'll be in there tomorrow."

The Nationals also continue to get zero production out of their left fielders, especially now that Harper has shifted to right field. Given yet another opportunity to assert himself last night, Roger Bernadina went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He also got twisted around trying to catch a first-inning drive to the warning track.

With left-hander Erik Bedard pitching for the Pirates tonight, look for Xavier Nady to get the nod in left field. But don't look for general manager Mike Rizzo to scour the rest of the league in search of another body who could take over that position, not with Morse's return anticipated.

"Like we said before, with injuries come opportunities," Rizzo said before yesterday's game. "We're going to give a handful of guys an opportunity to perform out there and see if they can help themselves in their career path and help the ballclub win some games. We feel comfortable with the guys we have in-house. We're going to give them opportunities to take the job, and for somebody to take the job and run with it."

All the more reason to appreciate just how valuable LaRoche has been. The veteran got plenty of negative attention last season when he hit just .172 and had to be shut down in May with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. But he's living up to the billing right now, and the Nationals are grateful to have him.

"People underestimate him because of what they saw last year when he tried to play hurt," Zimmerman said. "It's not easy to play through things like that. He gave it a shot. Unfortunately he couldn't do it, and so that's what a lot of people think of him as a player. Adam's a good hitter. He's a very underrated player."

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Nats prospect update: Three minor-leaguers sent to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera

Nats prospect update: Three minor-leaguers sent to Kansas City for Kelvin Herrera

The biggest story in Nationals prospects this week is the three Washington lost to the Royals in return for closer Kelvin Herrera. Here’s a look at what the Nationals gave up to add more depth to the bullpen.

Kelvin Gutierrez, AA 3B

The infielder, formerly on the Nationals’ 40-man roster, has posted a .285/.344/.388 line through his six-season minor league tenure. One of his greatest strengths is his speed, with 55 career stolen bases and 14 extra-base hits this season. His other notable tool is his powerful arm strength, which may help explain his transition from shortstop to the hot corner.

Blake Perkins, High A OF

The Nationals chose outfielder Blake Perkins in the second round of the 2015 draft. He has quite a bit of room to improve at the plate, batting .234/.344/.290 this season in Hagerstown. However, what he lacks offensively, he makes up for in the outfield. According to Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser, Perkins has “plus speed, mature instincts, excellent routes and an above-average arm.”

Yohanse Morel, RHP

The biggest wild card of the group, Morel is a 17-year-old outfielder-turned-pitcher from the Dominican Republic. His fastball reaches 95 mph and he certainly has huge potential for growth. He has not yet pitched in the U.S. since making his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in early June.

So, what did the Nationals gain?

Right-handed closer Kelvin Herrera is a two-time All-Star who is currently in the midst of a stellar season. In his Nats debut, he needed just six pitches to shut down the Orioles in the eight. The team is reportedly (and understandably) thrilled to have Herrera joining the roster. Adam Eaton said, "I'm so happy he's here and he's on my team and I don't have to face him anytime in the near future."

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Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The rain was heavy and relentless. As the puddles grew deeper on the tarp at Nationals Park, the Baltimore Orioles were left to wonder if their bid for a rare road victory would be thwarted by, of all things, the weather.

During a season in which very little has worked in their favor, the Orioles withstood a long rain delay to beat the Washington Nationals 3-0 Wednesday night.

Baltimore led 2-0 after four innings when play was stopped. After a wait of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the game resumed with a few hundred fans from the announced crowd of 32,153 sprinkled around the lower seating bowl.

Mark Trumbo homered for Baltimore, and Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hitter in a game that ended long after midnight.

"It was nice," Trumbo said. "I'm glad that we actually kept the game going. Had we not been able to, it might have been a wash. But it ended up being pretty big for us."

Baltimore ended a six-game losing streak to Washington that began last May, won for only the fourth time in 20 games and improved the majors' worst road record to 10-28.

This one was worth the wait.

"It's never easy, especially when you get over the hour mark, two-hour mark," Trumbo said. "Then you have to restart. It's almost two games in one, so, great job by our guys tonight."

The Nationals managed only two hits following the delay, both in the ninth inning.

"It happens. You can't do anything about the rain," manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to come out and get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to make any excuses."

The rain delay cut short a solid pitching performance by Cashner, who allowed three hits and no walks over four innings in his return from an 11-day stay on the disabled list with back spasms.

Miguel Castro (2-2) followed with two hitless innings, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect seventh and Zach Britton got four outs.

Brad Brach allowed the Nationals to load the bases with two outs in the ninth before striking out Mark Reynolds .

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Gio Gonzalez (6-4), and for a while it appeared the drive would be washed out by the rain.

"One pitch. That was the whole game," Gonzalez lamented. "That was it."

Indeed, it all ended well for the Orioles, who added a run in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled off Shawn Kelley and scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia .

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